Matt Hasselbeck: 6 Reasons Seattle Seahawks Should Move on from Franchise QB
Over the course of the offseason everyone has been asking the same questions: Should the Seattle Seahawks re-sign Matt Hasselbeck, and should he re-sign with them, under what terms? Obviously, the biggest question is will it happen?
Even Seahawks GM John Schneider admitted during the pre-draft presser that it’s a fun topic to talk about, but the majority of the team's thoughts about quarterbacks and 2011 free agency have remained private.
A variety of rumors have been tossed around, with a growing sentiment Hasselbeck will indeed leave Seattle—the most popularly speculated destination of late being Tennessee. I believe Hasselbeck still has value to the Seahawks, but only under certain terms.
We know the Seahawks have a variety of plans in place for post-lockout business. The organization has divulged some thoughts about its vision for the quarterback position through roundabout answers.
With a new collective bargaining agreement hopefully closer "than many people realize," a growing media sentiment that Hasselbeck may actually be leaving and the continued discussion surrounding the position, let's explore the case that pleads Seattle should move on from Hasselbeck next season.
Seven Touchdowns, One Interception, a 1-1 Playoff Record...
Let’s face reality: Hasselbeck's 2010 regular season of 14 starts, 15 total touchdowns, 22 total turnovers, a completion percentage a hair under 60 percent and a quarterback rating in the 70s makes two straight subpar seasons for the former Pro Bowl quarterback.
To make matters worse, it’s not as if 2008 provides a silver lining; seven starts, a completion percentage below 53 and a rating under 60. Yuck.
Mike Holmgren’s last season was 2008, and 2009 was a transition year with jobs on the line. Has Hasselbeck been feeling the pressure to keep his job since 2008?
I will scratch the surface here: The more I watch of his 2009 play, the more I understand his erratic nature in 2010. Hasselbeck pre-2008 had chemistry with his receivers; this receiving corps has been a group in transition, Ben Obomanu the lone ranger from the old regime. Hasselbeck's recent injuries merely added to the offensive struggles.
Hasselbeck turned down a one-year, $7 million offer. Why? We don’t know, but we do know it’s not the two years Kerry Collins received from Tennessee.
In my opinion, it was a very reasonable offer for Hasselbeck to accept, but it was still in the best interest of the organization—no guaranteed ties beyond 2011, a smart strategy on its part.
The ideal scenario for the Seahawks—if they re-propose a deal—would be if Hasselbeck accepts that one-year offer, or if the Seahawks find a way to build in a second year triggered by incentives, such as winning the NFC West and maybe even another playoff home win.
If Hasselbeck is unwilling to have a flexible second year built in—even third with great play—based on team success, what does that say about his faith in his own abilities?
If they can’t come to common terms, the team may rightfully decide the time to move on is indeed now—the two playoff games proving to be too little, too late.
Whitehurst Gets His “50-50” Shot to Be the Starter
After the draft John Schneider said there is a 50-50 chance Charlie Whitehurst goes into training camp as the starter.
Unless they pull the trigger with a major trade—we’ll get to that later—the Seahawks are in position to learn Whitehurst’s potential by giving him the chance to start in 2011.
Vindication for trading a 2011 third-rounder in 2010 for a four-year veteran with zero regular season passes.
This plan would exemplify discipline in their approach, as Schneider has alluded to the importance of remaining disciplined in filling the quarterback position.
However, the Seahawks would also show discipline if they rewarded player X with the starting job if he out-competes Whitehurst in camp, or early in the season if repetitions are split in practice.
As I noted earlier in the offseason, Whitehurst improved in his senior season at Clemson—a result of improved mechanics and a balanced but less explosive offense.
With or without Hasselbeck, Whitehurst should get the chance to compete for the starting job.
The Seahawks Will Have Cap Space and Roster Flexibility
If the Seahawks decide to move on from Hasselbeck heading into the big spending period that will be 2011 free agency, they will have increased flexibility in how to address their roster needs.
We know one year for $7 million is the base for quarterbacks; with the free agent market slim for quarterbacks, any contract significantly bigger will likely be the result of a trade for a starting quarterback.
But if they don’t make a trade and don’t re-sign Hasselbeck, there would be full flexibility to find a viable veteran backup to compete with Whitehurst. The team would then have plenty of cap space to spend on the defensive line, the secondary, left guard and other various holes.
They will be able to fortify the team further to support the quarterback spot; trades for bigger contract players at other positions could now enter the discussion, while larger offers to other veterans now become a possibility as well.
The point: Moving on from Hasselbeck could create unforeseen opportunities in free agency that create more potential than his possible return.
Seattle Can Get Younger and More Explosive at the Quarterback Position
Part of the Seahawks approach to team building involves becoming a younger, more athletic team; the Seahawks added pieces to their defense on day three of the draft using that approach.
While quarterback is not a position usually associated with elite athleticism, or even youth, having a quarterback with an enticing combination of both is usually not a problem for NFL teams.
During the pre-draft presser Carroll revealed ideally they would like to let a player mature at the right pace; “get him in command" and "let him think clearly” was Carroll’s phrasing.
So now the obvious: Re-signing Matt Hasselbeck is the anti-“get younger and more explosive” move. As we saw during the only game plan that was designed for Charlie Whitehurst in 2010—Week 17 versus St. Louis—he can make plays with his feet both by design and default, but protecting his body is still an issue.
If Seattle chooses to replace Hasselbeck with a cheaper veteran, they could look for someone who is capable on the move—not a “pure runner.” Mobility can help slow down the pass rush and could aid a young and gelling offensive line in times of breakdown.
Add in Hasselbeck’s brittleness over recent years, and having some youthful exuberance to escape the inevitable offensive line breakdowns doesn’t sound like a worst-case scenario.
The Chance to Fit a More Athletic, Bigger-Armed Quarterback into the New Offense
Pete Carroll brought Darrell Bevell and Tom Cable to Seattle because their offensive coaching principles are in line with Pete Carroll’s philosophy: a power running game and an effective, big-play-capable passing game that mixes formations and personnel.
This chart shows Bevell was able to increase the offense's output in multiple categories, including third down conversion and yards per pass play, yearly through 2009.
In the same link, we learn more about Bevell’s ideal philosophy: a power running game and balanced play calling. Favre may have altered that philosophy a bit, with a pass-happy team in 2009 and early in 2010, but balance is a primary offensive goal for Carroll.
Under Bevell, the Vikings relied on a power running game to open up the passing game. The vertical element improved each season from 2006-2009, with Brad Johnson, Tarvaris Jackson and Gus Frerotte before Favre.
What does this mean for the Seahawks? For starters, Hasselbeck’s decreasing arm strength would presumably be a limitation—unless Hasselbeck is in fact more explosive, as Mike Williams claimed during unofficial workouts.
Furthermore, Hasselbeck is an emotional leader that has a propensity to force balls into nonexistent windows, a la Brett Favre, just without the rocket arm.
Given Whitehurst’s small playing sample, he looks to be a quarterback that is capable of using the short passing game and his legs to create deep opportunities with his arm—more of a game manager than risk-taker—and a major part of the Pete Carroll formula is based on protecting the football.
If Seattle is focused on starting the transition to a team that consistently moves the pocket and the quarterback, with the hope of creating a vertical passing attack to compliment the running game, an aging Hasselbeck is not an ideal fit in its plans.
The Future Is Now: It’s Time to Explore the Unknown and Accept the Results
We know Pete Carroll’s mantras “always compete” and “buy in” are a prevalent part of the Seahawks mindset; those attitudes are not conducive to producing losing results, unless the whole is less than the sum of its parts.
But Seattle is in rebuilding mode, and the downside of rebuilding is losing—the upside being a high draft pick.
Looking ahead, the unknown lies in how Whitehurst will perform, the known being that Seattle will either find its answer in Whitehurst and maintain its winning ways, or the team has a path in place towards finding the quarterback/s of the future.
The organization felt the 2011 draft was not the time to fill the position, the team still thin in too many areas. Now is the best opportunity to give 2011 third-round pick Charlie Whitehurst his chance to start.
However, given that from the "no Hasselbeck" perspective we acknowledge that the future at the quarterback position is now, highlighting a recent rumor is appropriate: the report that Seattle has offered first- and third-round picks for Kevin Kolb. When exactly this rumored offer took place we don't know.
Dave Mahler of KJR was the person who broke the rumor; in a previous interview with Mahler, Carroll had this to say about hypothetically "mortgaging the future" using multiple first-round picks, or something of that nature, to acquire a quarterback:
For that position yes. If he’s the right guy and can really lead you and command the position like the great players have been able to do, then it’s totally worth it. That player being available is a whole different question—is there somebody out there that is like that? But it is so important that whatever it takes to get the guy, you get him in my mind. And John feels the same way about that.
This in-depth, informative article, which draws upon the knowledge of NFL films’ Greg Cosell, breaking down Kolb’s career performance was released within 24 hours of the trade rumors surfacing. Cosell tabs Kolb's upside as a Matt Hasselbeck-type player.
Many Seahawks fans may say, “A first and third for Kolb, what?!” I agree that’s a steep price given the potential upside of losing.
Seattle has been linked to Kolb continually throughout the Carroll/Schneider regime; if a trade for Kolb is inevitable, a more sensible package could be a combination of mid-round picks and/or a player.
Has Seattle decided during the past two months it is indeed ready to mortgage parts of the 2012 and/or 2013 draft to begin the future in 2011? Maybe making a major move for a quarterback in 2011 free agency was part of the plan all along.
If Kolb—or anyone else—is their guy, especially after months of extra time to evaluate, Carroll's comments suggest they will pursue their man. They pursued Whitehurst last year. This rumor is the type of aggressive move that would signify the future at the quarterback position is truly beginning now.
If Carroll and Schneider decide for better or worse that the future at quarterback starts now, the Seahawks will be better off without Matt Hasselbeck.
I will post part two of this article, as we potentially near the end of the speculative discussion surrounding the Seahawks quarterback situation and the transition into 2011, coming soon.